Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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9 Reasons Why Online Video Advertising Has Failed to Meet Previous Forecasts

Posted: 08 Oct 2011 08:30 AM PDT

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Editor's note: The following guest post was written by contributor Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, founder and CEO of WatchMojo.

In 2011, forecasters are projecting U.S. online video advertising revenues of $1.9 billion to $5.6 billion.  I emailed Forrester, Magna Global, eMarketer and Accustream and obtained the following information:

  • MagnaGlobal: $1.9 billion
  • eMarketer: $2.16 billion
  • Accustream: $5.6 billion

Forrester Research projects $7.1 billion for 2012 but couldn't give me an estimate for 2011.

All sources include:

  • in-stream and in-banner video ads
  • video advertising around video and text content.

Grain of Salt

In 2007, I published a post that aggregated a series of projections for where online video advertising would be in the future.  One estimate, set in 2004, of the expected size of the US online video ad market by 2009 was $657 million.  A year later, there was a 2009 estimate at $1.5 billion. According to the IAB, the actual number for video advertising in 2009 was $908 million (and grew to $1.4 billion in 2010).

If you go back to 2007, estimates for 2011 ranged from $4.3 billion (eMarketer, again) to $10 billion. The economic meltdown of 2008-09 made all previous projections moot, but its net effect was favorable for online advertising and video at the expense of print and television advertising.  Despite that, eMarketer’s current $2.16 billion forecast for 2011 is half of what it projected four years ago.

Is this a racket?

A cynic would argue that VCs essentially underwrite this "research" to pump portfolio company valuations, sending everyone into a frenzy.  That's not totally unfair, but it's not true either.

Online Video is Here to Stay

Without a doubt, online video is a mainstream activity and part of the ecosystem: "With comScore estimating that 100 million people will be watching a billion pieces of video content per day, there's no denying that there's more of an opportunity than ever before for advertisers to take advantage of video," says Digital Broadcasting Group Chief Product Officer Matthew Corbin, who was previously at YouTube and Tremor Video.

But I’ve closely followed investor expectations and analyst forecasts and, personally, I think online video has not met expectations, let alone surpassed them.

Why?

1)     THIS ISN'T ABOUT SEMANTICS

The low-hanging argument is "a lack of definitions".  That's BS.  It doesn't really matter if "video advertising" includes an in-banner video ad around an article or a video pre-roll before a video.  In the end, online video should be everything that has one video component.

2)     IT STARTS WITH YOUTUBE DOMINATION

While online video has exploded, no one could have foreseen YouTube's ever-growing grip on true video views.  I've argued that YouTube strategically sat on revenue early on, only once their dominance was secure did they start to implement the things that would make more money for producers, finally adding the one game-changer recently—audience tracking and analytics.

3)     UGC REMAINS A MAJOR DRIVER OF VOLUME

User-generated content remains one of the more popular categories of content.  With distribution companies "curating" UGC and many marketers not willing to pay the premium rates that premium commands, we are seeing more monetization around UGC than ever before.  Combined with limitless inventory, this pulls down the total ad revenue growth rate—make no mistake about it. Instead of paying premium rates advertisers get away with paying less to reach users by being able to run ads next to cheaper UGC content. And not all the UGC inventory sells out. There’s plenty of unsold inventory so marketers drive prices down.

4)     LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

While the definition of what is "online video advertising" isn't really an issue, the lack of transparency is, especially when it comes to differentiating between in-banner and in-stream inventory, disclosing it, and pricing it accordingly.  If advertisers are conditioned to pay for in-stream but get in-banner, this distorts reality and expectations.

5)     WRONG METRICS

My one-year old daughter stands in front of the television and presses her hands against the screen.  But guess what?  My three-year old doesn't.  Neither does my wife or I.  Just because the click-through rate (CTR) was an acceptable (questionable) metric for display banners and search results, why on earth should it be for video?  How many normal, average viewers even know that you can click on a video?  Video is for branding, and branding works with or without clicks, but when ad buys are "optimized" based on CTRs, then naturally you will be taking two steps forward and one step back.

6)     YOUTUBE LATE TO PRE-ROLL PARTY

Like it or not, the main tool in the video marketer's toolbox remains the pre-roll.  Taking a 30-second television spot and adapting it for online is simple.  Thankfully we're seeing 15-second ads become the norm.  With YouTube owning such a large share of views (over 40% according to comScore) and only recently embracing pre-rolls, no wonder video advertising failed to meet previously-set expectations.  According to Accustream, digital video media spend spiked 89% in 2010 with the addition of YouTube pre-roll inventory.

7)     HOLLYWOOD IS PULLING A COBRA COMMANDER

Marketers will only spend more money online when they see the kind of content that compels them to do so.  With NBC, Disney and FOX retreating from free, ad-supported distribution, expect advertisers to need more convincing before opening up.

8)     MOBILE WILD CARD

US advertising on Mobile will top $1 billion for the first time, most of that comes from display and search ads.  Naturally mobile can be a strong driver for video content but not necessarily video pre-rolls.  Until the iPhone burst open the mobile market, carriers were suffocating mobile video.

9)     STREAMLINING

"We've made progress.  Demand and inventory are growing and standards like VAST and VPAID have eased the effort.  But buying digital video and understanding what you bought is still too hard. " states TubeMogul's Brett Wilson.

Lowered Expectations

Google's perfect storm in search won't be repeated in video: there won't be one clear winner in video, and those who survive will only be considered successful relative to the investment they required to thrive.  Will online video advertising top $5 billion in 2014?  Do I hear $10 billion?  Until the online video industry gets its act together, these forecasts will turn out to be just as wrong as their predecessors.


Ashkan Karbasfrooshan is the founder of Granicus Group and CEO of WatchMojo, one of the leading producers and providers of professional video content to portals, web publishers, online magazines, blogs, social networks and video portals. A finance graduate from one of the top colleges in the nation, Ashkan started his career as in-house finance analyst at one of the original meta-search engines on the Web, Mamma. From there he worked in the online publishing industry where he headed up advertising...

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Company: YouTube
Website: youtube.com
Launch Date: November 9, 2005
Funding: $11.5M

YouTube was founded in 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, who were all early employees of PayPal. YouTube is the leader in online video, sharing original videos worldwide through a Web experience. YouTube allows people to easily upload and share video clips across the Internet through websites, mobile devices, blogs, and email. Everyone can watch videos on YouTube. People can see first-hand accounts of current events, find videos about their hobbies and interests, and discover the quirky...

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How Zerofootprint Uses Data To Make Schools Greener

Posted: 08 Oct 2011 06:33 AM PDT

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Editor's note: Guest writer Joseph Puopolo is an entrepreneur and start-up enthusiast, who blogs on a variety of topics including green initiatives, technology and marketing.

The word “green” is tossed around a lot as a catchall term to describe sustainable or environmentally friendly projects, businesses, energy, and more. Green construction and architecture, for one, are proliferating across the world, but when it comes to gauging how “green” a building is, for example, one finds that there are more than a few standards by which to determine its efficiency and sustainability.

Enter Toronto-based Zerofootprint: A cleantech software and services company, which is leveraging competitive benchmarking between peers to help determine the “green” factor for any given building. Ron Dembo, the founder of Zerofootprint, contends that, if you want to motivate developers to improve the efficiency of a building, one can’t simply benchmark against everyone else, because each community has a different climate. Thus, the founder says that Zerofootprint aims to focus on benchmarking buildings against other buildings within a community to achieve maximum community efficiency.

Zerofootprint uses its mapping and analytics engine to correlate multiple consumption and usage data points, like power usage, costs, emissions, etc., that it then plots on an interactive map for easy viewing. Currently, the company is working with over 100 customers that include entities like school boards and municipalities, and is leveraging its data in school districts to drive change at a school-by-school level.

By tracking power usage at this local level, Zerofootprint is quickly able to see which schools are using higher amounts of power and thus incurring a higher cost. Through some quick analysis, it’s able to track and see that a school board may be paying $2,500 per child in electricity vs. $800 in another school, for example.

Some of these differences can be traced to age of the building, but another key component is behavior. By sharing this information with key stakeholders (including students, teachers, parents and administrators), the schools can then work to reduce energy costs. It is the hope that by reducing energy costs, school districts can focus on using those funds towards education instead of just keeping the lights on.

According to Dembo, through realtime feedback with its system, Zerofootprint has already been able to help certain schools achieve 20 percent energy reduction. He also says that it’s been interesting to see the reaction from stakeholders for installations that have not even taken root. Zerofootprint has recently deployed their solution with the Halton Catholic District School board.

"Even in the early stages of this initiative, teachers and principals are excited about using the
Zerofootprint tool to engage students and encourage behavioral change when it comes to energy use in our schools. Our Board looks forward to using this tool to track carbon emissions and strive to continuously improve energy conservation", says Erin Holko, Environmental Sustainability Officer of the Halton Catholic District School Board.

Time will tell as to what the ultimate impact will be of actively monitoring power usage, but it is clear that they are getting traction from multiple levels of stakeholders. The key will be to see how this translates both in different regions and in both government and the private sector.

As to cost, the minimum for a Zerofootprint installation is $25,000, which pays for the analytics and dashboard that help track the progress within the organization. For many companies with ever growing energy costs, this can help properly identify where the issues are and address them.

While school boards have been a key client, this is the tip of the iceberg as to who Zerofootprint wants to reach with this technology. The hope is that by empowering multiple stakeholders with information, it will act as a catalyst to spur behaviour change in many sectors and industries. This will not only change how people use power but how people use buildings. With a clearer understanding and correlation of these factors, it hopes to enable administrators to make clearer decisions.

Zerofootprint has been challenged lately by competition from a new company in the space called OPower. But Dembo maintains that it has an edge over OPower, as it has begun to partner with banks to give special financial benefits to those who reduce their eco footprint. In any case, the entrance of OPower into the market is helping to draw more attention to both their offerings, indicating that there is room to grow, as the race to connect the dots between behavior and energy patterns is just beginning.

The key going forward will be not just the creation of linkages, but identifying which systems truly spur a ground-level change in behavior. Zerofootprint's key differentiator will be tying performance to financial incentives. Zerofootprint has been courting banks and financial institutions to give preferential rates and products to organizations that become greener. If there were more incentives to operate in a more energy efficient manner, this could be a game changer for green initiatives. By involving real financial incentives, it is more likely to take hold in the mainstream rather than just with those who pursue green initiatives for altruistic purposes.

It is clear that information is the first step to making a decision. Zerofootprint hopes that once information is put in the hands of multiple people, innovation will occur and people will formulate their own solutions to increase energy efficiency.


Company: Zerofootprint
Launch Date: January 1, 2005

Zerofootprint’s mission is to empower individuals and communities to fight climate change in measurable and practical ways. The site develops applications and initiatives to measure and manage carbon and ecological footprint for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These are made available over the Web with social networks to help every person, organization, city and community know where they stand in the climate crisis and how they can make a difference in the aggregate. The chief goal of the...

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Daily Crunch: Blimp

Posted: 08 Oct 2011 01:00 AM PDT

Help Scout Draws Funding To Bring Affordable Email Collaboration And Support To Startups

Posted: 08 Oct 2011 12:05 AM PDT

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After graduating from TechStars Boston this spring, Brightwurks, a startup that makes web-based productivity tools with an emphasis on customer service, launched a new product called Help Scout that aims to bring quality email collaboration and support to small businesses.

The problem the startup hopes to address, as Brightwurks Co-founder and CEO Nick Francis sees it, is that, while the majority of companies feel that great customer service is mission critical to their business, on the Web, most still fail to interact with customers effectively. Part of the problem is that current solutions for customer relations offer a user experience that is automated and inherently impersonal.

Furthermore, in the customer service market, there is a growing gap, Francis says, between email and help desks. Solutions like Zendesk and Assistly (the latter is now part of Salesforce) end up being too wide-ranging and complex for small businesses to integrate. It doesn’t make sense for a 10-person startup or online retailer to use a help desk, for example, when the team just wants an easy way to scale their email support.

As well-known players like Salesforce and NetSuite target the enterprise, Help Scout intends to cut down on the noise and focus on the one thing every online business needs: Email support. “Focusing on one area allows us to do that one thing really well, and be versatile there, as opposed to offering 50 different features that just lead to a complicated and mediocre overall user experience”, the Brightwurks CEO said.

Thus, Help Scout is going for a help desk-CRM hybrid (that will soon sync with the CRM solution your business is already running), designed for any team of two or more that needs to share an email inbox, keep everyone on the same page, and offer personalized, high-quality customer support.

According to Francis, 27 percent of emails sent by customers to online retailers are answered incorrectly, and most often that’s a result of the agent being unfamiliar with the customer. To solve this problem of familiarity, Help Scout allows agents to see every conversation that’s ever taken place with the customer, along with a public profile of that customer compiled from data on social networks, etc. (Similar to what Rapportive does for teams.)

Emails from Help Scout look like one-on-one email threads, as they actually come from a real person with a personalized signature — not like the correspondence one would receive from a help desk. What’s more, to the customer, Help Scout is invisible; they don’t have to log in to an account or go through a complicated process to talk with a real person.

As to how it works? Help Scout is compatible with any email address, the startup simply gives a business a unique email alias, to which it can forward copies of all incoming emails. This gets a copy into Help Scout, and businesses can then set up their own outgoing server or use Help Scout’s for sending replies. Typically, setup takes about 4 minutes, Francis says, which gives it a bit of a leg up over the big players in the space, which often requires weeks of customization.

For all businesses, great customer service is essential, but because it can be time-consuming and complicated to manage, there’s a prevailing sense that the ROI is marginal. They instead turn to web-based and cloud services to automate and make CRM easier to deal with, in hopes of seeing more of a return on the time and energy invested.

Across the board, companies are investing more and more in online customer service (Salesforce acquired Assistly for $50 million in September), and there’s an abundance of opportunity in this market. As a testament to this fact, Help Scout is announcing that it has raised $435,000 in seed funding from a full roster of 17 angels and VCs, including Dharmesh Shah, David Cancel, Dave Balter, Zelkova Ventures, TechStars, and more.

Help Scout launched in May and has signed up over 500 companies so far. It’s still early, but part of the reason the service is attracting 100 companies per month is that its affordable at $10/month for individuals and $20/month for businesses. For startups and small businesses, this pricing makes it an appealing alternative to the bigs.

For more on Help Scout, check them out at home here.


Company: Brightwurks
Website: brightwurks.com
Launch Date: January 8, 2007
Funding: $408k

Brightwurks builds web applications that solve practical problems. The company is the collaborative effort of 3 partners that have been working together since 2004. Brightwurks’ first commercial web application was launched in late 2008, called FeedMyInbox. Feed My Inbox is the industry leader for RSS to email, now with 170,000 active customers and growing. In March of 2011, Brightwurks was accepted into TechStars (Boston). The application they are working on is called Help Scout, a way for teams to collaborate...

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Product: Help Scout
Website: helpscout.net
Company Brightwurks

9 out of 10 companies feel that customer service is important or mission critical to their business. But online, most of them fail. It’s impersonal and often automated, resulting in unhappy customers and lost business. Help Scout enables companies to deliver the personal touch of email at scale. Teams can manage customers, collaborate on a single email inbox and stay on the same page without any emails slipping through the cracks. Most importantly, to the customer the conversation looks just...

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#IswabbedforAmit Offers Up 20K To Find A Bone Marrow Donor For Startup Founder Amit Gupta

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 11:32 PM PDT

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I’ve never met Photojojo and Jelly co-founder Amit Gupta, but for the past two days or so my Twitter stream has been swamped with commentaryon his story. Diagnosed with acute Leukemia two weeks ago, Gupta has had trouble finding a bone marrow match, primarily because of the lack of donors from the South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Bhutani, Maldivian and Sri Lankan) community.

The national bone marrow registry contains 9.5 million records, yet the possibly of someone from South Asian descent like Amit will find match is only 1 in 20,000. So Amit did whatever any startup founder or techie would do when faced with such impossible odds, he drew upon our community. Low and behold, two weeks later, his colleague Seth Godin and his friend Michael Galpert have offered a combined $20K and respective blog coverage for the person who turns out to be a match for Amit.

Prospective candidates can find out more information about how send in their cotton swab tests to qualify here. And in case the “needle in the back” pain factor of a bone marrow transplant is turning you off, the procedure can also be done in a relatively less intrusive way via a blood-transfusion-like machine, and is totally painless.

While the #IswabbedforAmit submission roster will be applied to the entire roster of marrow.org recipients, people who are lured in by #IswabbedforAmit have the opportunity to register on behalf of Amit. San Francisco organizer and Foodzie founder Emily Olson tells me, “The number one thing we need to do is keep him [Amit] super positive, and then keep registry filled with people. I’m trying to gather as many resources as we can.”

Olson says that what’s impressed her the most about #IswabbedforAmit is the realization that the entrepreneurial community isn’t limited to Silicon Valley, but extends to all over the world (right now bone marrow drives for Amit are in the works in Delhi and Mumbai). “Everyone is like ‘This can’t happen to Amit, because he’s put so much good into the world that shouldn’t get taken away … We’re a community of doers, and it’s amazing how fast things have happened.”

See marrow.org, Seth Godin’s blog, @MSG and Amit Gupta’s blog for more info or fill out this form if you think you can help.

Let’s try to save the ones we can guys.


Company: Photojojo
Website: photojojo.com
Launch Date: January 4, 2006

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TechCrunch Giveaway: Two Free Tickets To Disrupt Beijing #TCDisrupt

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 07:30 PM PDT

Beijing 2011

Disrupt Beijing is almost here. With speakers like Pony Ma, Lin Bin, Peter Vesterbacka and Niklas Zennström, it’s going to be an amazing conference. This October 31st to November 1st, our very own Jason Kincaid, Alexia Tsotsis, Leena Rao, Greg Kumparak, John Biggs and many more will be flying to China to shake things up. Of course, our own Sarah Lacy will be hosting, along with special guest Peter Goodman. Peter Goodman knows a thing or two about disruption and China. He has more than a decade of reporting on the economy, business and technology for The New York Times and The Washington Post, with 5 of those years being spent in China. He currently is the executive business editor at The Huffington Post.

Of course, like any Disrupt conference, there will also be cocktail parties, influential meetups, chats with some of the best in the business, and more.

We know not everyone may have the chance to purchase a ticket to Disrupt Beijing, so we wanted to give two free tickets away to two lucky readers. If you want to come with us to Beijing for our next Disrupt conference, just follow the steps below.

1) Become a fan of our TechCrunch Facebook Page:

2) Then do one of the following:

- Retweet this post (making sure to include the #TCDisrupt hashtag)
- Or leave us a comment below telling us why you want to come

The contest starts now and ends October 9th at 7:30pm PT.

Please only tweet the message once or you will be disqualified. We will choose at random and contact the two winners this Sunday night. Also, please note this giveaway is for tickets only and does not include airfare or hotel.



Off The Couch: Explorence Wants To Turn Your Outdoor Activities Into Interactive Video Games (Invites)

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 06:40 PM PDT

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Some startups and apps (like Joypad and Brass Monkey to name a few) are turning your iPhones into customizable game controllers, while Wii and Kinect have turned you into the controller with their motion-sensing consoles.

You’ve heard it hundreds of times, but smartphone technology is advancing at an astonishing rate. Five years ago, video recording was still a novelty. Now, our phones can understand human speech, make reservations, and tell us our new shirt makes us look fat. Mobile gaming has evolved rapidly over the last few years as well, but most serious gaming is still done via the browser or home console etc., and all gamers could stand to take their gaming out of doors.

Riding the crest of smartphone innovation, and conceived as a way to get gamers off their couches, a new startup is opening its private beta today called Explorence, which is developing outdoor mobile games for Android — and soon for iOS.

What does that mean? Simply put, through its mobile apps, Explorence plans to transform your outdoor recreational activities into interactive video games. The startup wants to turn your jogs into “The Amazing Race” and your bike rides into Mario Kart. Users create their own courses and experiences to compete against friends asynchronously. Explorence augments these outdoor activities with music, check points, leaderboards, rewards, as well as “fail conditions” to create an immersive gaming experience for your outdoor recreatin’.

For example, DASH!, the startup’s first title created using its technology, enables users to create, participate, and wager in races of any kind (asynchronously). First, a user creates a race via GPS by walking the course with smartphone or selecting start and finish areas. Users can then select how much virtual currency they want to wager on the race — at which point anyone who selects that race on the app gets to compete in that race, at the time or in the future.

Once you’re ready to go, the app will begin a countdown to start, a gun goes off, and you run your race (phone in pocket is probably a good idea). There’s musical accompaniment and sound effects udring your race, and once you cross the finish line you’ve created, the phone stops the clock and automatically enters your time onto its virtual leaderboard so you can see how you did compared to your friends.

The racers earn coins for participating (and more for victory), which will later be redeemable for game enhancements and real world goods. DASH! works with any racing discipline: driving, cycling, running, snowboarding, etc.

For the past 2 months, the Explorence team have been testing these time-shifted races, and its small set of users are already averaging 3.9 sessions (races or races created) per day. For gamers who love the outdoors, it seems to have the potential to become pretty addicting.

The key to Explorence’s technology and user experience lies in how the team has been able to use GPS, smartphone sensors, etc. to tweak geofencing around a particular point. For example, Explorence has two more titles in the pipeline, one of which will bring its technology to extreme sports — so that snowboarders for example will be able to put their phones in their pockets and go into the park to hit jumps and tricks. The apps will then measure distance, the amount of rotations, etc., giving them points and a soundtrack all the while.

There are already some augmented reality first person shooter (FPS) games out there, which essentially turn your smartphone into gun and let you blast away at your friends. The technology is still developing, to be sure, but we’re clearly at a point now where the functionality is ready to go mainstream. Whether users are ready to adopt — that’s another story.

The Explorence team, which consists of Mike Suprovici, Bill Gleim, and Mark Thompson, are graduates of the San Diego Founder Institute.

Today, DASH! is available in private beta on Android (and will be launching on both iOS and Android later this year), and Explorence is offering 500 invites for its beta, which readers can take advantage of by going to the startup’s website and entering “TechCrunch” into the “Access Code” field.

Check it out and let us know what you think.


Company: Explorence
Website: explorence.com

Explorence makes outdoor video games. We turn your phone into a Wii and you into the controller.

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Here’s To The Crazy One

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 06:40 PM PDT

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When I wrote my piece entitled “One More Thing…” in August following the news that Steve Jobs was formally stepping down as CEO of Apple, I knew that sooner or later there would have to be a follow up. Unfortunately, it ended up being sooner.

While the reaction following Jobs’ resignation was powerful, the reaction to his passing has been nothing short of amazing. Former employees, colleagues, celebrities, adversaries — even the President of the United States paid tribute. But once again, the most fascinating group of people showing their support are the ones who did not know Steve Jobs. It’s the everyday people that simply used and loved his products.

The Tweets, Facebook messages, blog posts, etc, flowing in from all over the world have been a unifying force. I happen to be in London right now, and in one Tube ride the day after he passed, I overheard several emotional conversations about Jobs. I also met a complete stranger yesterday and when I told him I was American, it was the first thing he brought up. Even my mother messaged me about it.

This type of global unity tends to happen when a major celebrity passes away — think: Michael Jackson — because nearly everyone on the planet knows who they are. People always look for common bonds, and those are easy ones to establish. That’s because pop culture shoves them in our faces for years if not decades. And the type of fame they achieve goes hand-in-hand with celebrity.

But Steve Jobs was not a celebrity — at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, he was famous, but he did not seek fame. Nor did he need it. The main goal of his career was not to sell his image. He was the head of a company.

When you think about it that way, I think the reaction we’re seeing to his passing points to something different. One element, as I wrote about following his resignation, is the emotional tie that people have to Apple products. Because so much thought and care is put into them, those who purchase and use them tend to cherish them. And as iPods, iPhones, and iPads have come around, the Apple user base has grown exponentially. Steve Jobs was the personification of Apple’s products — hence, a strong connection.

But it goes even deeper.

People have been writing about their profound sadness over the loss even though they’ve never met Jobs. And many of them have noted that they didn’t expect to feel this way. Thinking about it, I believe this is related to two things.

First, Jobs died young. Even though his illness ravaged his body and made him appear far older than he actually was, Jobs was only 56 years old at the time of his passing.  The average male life expectancy in the U.S. is just about 76. For the world overall, it’s 67. To be fair, those ages are calculated at birth, but Jobs was also a billionaire with access to any doctor in the world that he could have wanted. He was simply dealt a bad hand with cancer. And it robbed him of at least 20 years on this planet.

But it didn’t just rob Jobs. It robbed us too. That’s why people who haven’t met the man care so deeply. Not only is his early death a sad story, it takes away a man who will go down as one of the greatest innovators of not only our time, but of any time. And while you could certainly argue that someone like Michael Jackson contributed great art to the world — he did — he hadn’t done anything significant in nearly 20 years at the time of this death. Steve Jobs was in his prime when it came to his trade, when he passed away.

It’s both sad and frustrating to think about what we’re going to miss in terms of innovation over the next 20 years because Jobs won’t be here. Even if you aren’t a fan of Apple, you cannot argue that Jobs hasn’t transformed industries and made them significantly better. He was a true iconoclast.

And we’re now in an age where technology is becoming increasingly important to everyones’ lives on a daily basis. The fact that we have to push forward without the best mind in the field is quite frankly, a little frightening. Others will step up. But there will never be another Steve Jobs. The world aches knowing that.

Many artists and geniuses aren’t appreciated in their day. It’s only after they’ve died that their legend is established. But Jobs was appreciated and given proper respect well before his death. This also plays into the outpouring of emotion we’re seeing. Most people realize that the world has just lost a genius.

And now we have a plethora of tools to talk about it in real time when it happens. When Disney died, when Einstein died, people had to read about it in the paper the next day and then talk about it with maybe a dozen other people that they happened to run into in the subsequent days. It’s hard to establish broader global context that way.

Before that, it was hard to know the significance of a great person dying at all. Michelangelo was considered the greatest living artist of his time. But even if people in say, China, had learned of his death, would they have any idea who he was? Probably not.

I might argue that Jobs is the first truly transformative figure to die in an age of transformative technology. He’s someone who will be talked about a thousand years from now. And the fact that he was transformative in technology just compounds the reactions to his death right now.

In many ways, it’s perfect that the video below surfaced again just after Jobs’ passing. It’s the original Apple “Think Different” commercial. In it, images of transformative people throughout the 20th century are shown as a narrator toasts to them for changing the world. In the versions that aired on TV, the narrator is Richard Dreyfuss. But in the version below, the narrator is Steve Jobs.

The toast reads as follows:

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Perhaps he didn’t know it in 1997 when he recorded this, but that is absolutely Steve Jobs describing himself. He was crazy enough to think he could change the world. And he did.

[image: Jonathan Mak]


Person: Steve Jobs
Website:
Companies: Pixar, NeXT, Apple

Steve Jobs was the co-founder and CEO of Apple and formerly Pixar. Steve Jobs was born in San Francisco, California to Joanne Simpson and a Syrian father. Paul and Clara Jobs of Mountain View, California then adopted him. In 1972, Jobs graduated from Homestead High School in Cupertino, California and enrolled in Reed College in Portland, Oregon. One semester later, he had dropped out, later taking up the study of philosophy and foreign cultures. Steve Jobs had a deep-seated interest in...

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Design Competition Yields Bikes Of The Future

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 06:04 PM PDT

Oregon Manifest 2011 opening day portraits.

Oregon Manifest, a nonprofit located in Portland, has been running a competition over the last few months in which students and pro teams work to create a next-generation city bike. This isn’t about speed (like the McLaren Venge) or concept design (like the Vienna Bike), but rather about creating a bike that provides the maximum amount of utility for someone looking to ditch their automobile.

These innovation-from-competition events are really blowing up; there have been lots lately aimed at creating everything from mega-efficient cars to electrically-powered aircraft. This one had 34 entrants who mostly had some variation of a cargo bike with electric assist, but they all varied in execution. I have to agree with the people’s choice, though, a collaboration between IDEO and Rock Lobster (pictured).

You can see the other winners here (I like the campus bike and the two-seater), but the Faraday, as the IDEO-Rock Lobster bike is called, really just hit me right in my future bone. Minus some of the slightly retro trappings, I can picture thousands of these crowding the streets. The design is just that well thought-out.

The front wheel has a hub motor powered by that battery underneath the seat there. The battery can be quick-charged at an outlet and are actually the same kind found in the Chevy Volt. The porteur-style front rack has been brought into the 21st century with a removable flat-rack that attaches or detaches in seconds by means of spring-loaded bolts, and the fronts of the support tubes conceal a pair of LED headlights. The rack is mounted on the frame, not the fork, which improves stability. I’ve always been a fan of paniers but this works nicely as well. Reminds me of this bent-wood bike basket. Core77 has a nice design diary for the project, and IDEO has a page for it as well.

It does have some design issues to work out: it’s rather tall, the seat-handlebar relationship is off, and it needs a more potent braking system. But there’s still a weird sort of elegance to the design.

A bike like this for a decent price would go a long way toward replacing cars for many people in the city. Human-powered, compact, and simple, yet able to go long distances and carry groceries. It’ll be a while before they’re really affordable, but the promise of the electric-assist bike, already taking effect elsewhere in the world, seems destined to come to our shores as long as there are people creating things like the Faraday and the other entries to the contest.

[second image source: BikePortland.org]



Tired Of Too Many Google+ Notifications? Now You Control Who Can Send Them To You

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 05:27 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-10-07 at 5.13.32 PM

There is a certain strange person that used to mention me on Google+ and whenever I’d click on the mention (I couldn’t resist I MEAN IT’S RIGHT THERE) I’d get slightly depressed. And I’d think, “Why Google? Why can’t I do the Google+ equivalent of “blocking” this strange person?”

Apparently I wasn’t alone on this, as Google has now given Google+ users the ability to control who has the power to up the count on the red blinky notification thingy in the right hand corner of your Plus bar. Hoorah!

Users can now adjust when notifications go off for individual sharing, mentions, hangout invites, play invites, messages sent and when users select the “notify about this post” function. But before you go get all drunk with this nascent power, you’ll still get notified if someone comments on your posts or adds you to a new circle, inexplicably.

Baby steps … Of course I don’t have the feature yet, because Google is rolling it out “slowly.” Fear my TechCrunch power.


Company: Google
Website: google.com
Launch Date: July 9, 1998
IPO: NASDAQ:GOOG

Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of online tools and platforms including: Gmail, Maps and YouTube. Most of its Web-based products are free, funded by Google’s highly integrated online advertising platforms AdWords and AdSense. Google promotes the idea that advertising should be highly targeted and relevant to users thus providing them with a rich source of information....

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Zurb’s Axe: A Tablet-Friendly Way To Mark Up (And Scribble On) Your Web Design

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 03:17 PM PDT

zurbshot

Interaction design firm Zurb has just launched a new tool that makes it easy to use your iPad to mark up and add comments about a website’s design. It’s called Axe (the domain is axeapp.com), and no, it has nothing to do with men’s body spray. Note that you can’t use it from your computer, so you’ll have to pull out an iPad to check it out.

The app is pretty straightforward: once you access it from your tablet, you’ll be prompted to enter the URL of the site you’d like to mark up (so, say, techcrunch.com). The app will then grab an image of the site, which you can immediately start scribbling on (to get rid of the stuff you don’t like) and circling (to highlight the things you do). You can also append text boxes to explain what exactly your scribbles mean. And if you get a little overzealous with your scribbling, you can shake the iPad to erase it.

Zurb marketing lead Dmitry Dragilev says that the service is optimized for the iPad but that it should work on Android tablets as well (albeit more slowly). And it’s free. There is one thing I’d like to see it add, though: at this point Axe is targeted mainly at people who design (or own) websites and are exchanging ideas; I’d like to see an option to let sites embed a consumer-facing button that lets users submit suggestions as well.

In fact, this is only the latest in a suite of free tools that Zurb has released over the years — we’ve previously written about apps like Reel (which lets you get instant feedback on presentations), and Clue, which lets you give users a sort of memory test on what they remember after viewing your site.

Another one of their free tools is Bounce, which is similar to Axe, but is optimized for your PC browser as opposed to the tablet.

Dragilev explains that Zurb sees these tools as a way to raise awareness for their consulting services. They also have a handful of premium tools, like Zurb Verify.



Turning The iPhone Into A 350x Medical Microscope For Under $50

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 03:17 PM PDT

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Using the iPhone (or any mobile smartphone or tablet device, really) for medical purposes isn’t a new thing, but it’s nice to see the applications people cook up. Just recently at Disrupt we saw Smartheart, and apps like Skin Scan are decentralizing some simple self-monitoring tasks like melanoma detection.

We’ve also seen lots of physical additions to the iPhone camera. You can get wide-angle lenses, telephotos, and even a 12x microscope lens. But a team of researchers at UC Davis has one-upped the competition by making the iPhone into a 350x microscope for very little money. Now you’ll be able to send people Instagrams of your blood cells.

It should be said right off the bat that this isn’t something that only the iPhone can do. But it’s the go-to device for proof of concept stuff like this for obvious reasons. The technique can be generalized to other devices later.

The project is actually quite a simple little hack. They use a 1mm ball lens and attach it to the outside of the iPhone lens array with a rubber sheet and some tape. The little lens technically only offers 5x magnification, but the way it focuses creates a tiny in-focus area that can resolve details down to about 1.5 microns. The field of view is very small and there’s distortion to deal with, but by combining the in-focus areas of several pictures you can get a clear enough image to identify cell types, make counts, or even take spectroscopic readings.

Take a look at these images: the ones on the top were taken with a full-on commercial medical microscope, the ones on the bottom are from the iPhone setup:

There’s obviously a major difference in quality, but the difference in price is even greater, and high-quality microscopes aren’t very mobile.

Essentially it’s one more step towards a tricorder. With a general-purpose CPU, modular inputs, and a versatile imaging unit, the smartphone is useful for far more than calling friends and playing Angry Birds. It may not be a mobile clinic, but in areas where money and electricity are hard to come by, an iPhone could be a valuable diagnostic tool. Extending the “senses” of our devices via cheap components and elbow grease could seriously empower decentralized medical care.

You can read the whole paper here. Funding for the study was provided by the National Science Foundation.



Swype CEO Mike McSherry Explains His $100 Million Deal With Nuance

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 02:55 PM PDT

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Last night, Michael broke the news that TechCrunch50 alum Swype was acquired for $100 million by speech technology company Nuance. The exact number was $102.5 million and, I’ve learned, it was all cash (split between $77.5 million up front and another $25 million in 18 months—call that a retention bonus for the Swype team).

So what does Nuance, which is known primarily for its speech recognition software engine, want with a gesture-based text entry technology like Swype? (Instead of tapping in letters on a touch keyboard, you swipe between them without lifting your finger). Earlier today, I spoke with Swype CEO Mike McSherry, who explained the thinking behind the deal. “The broadest vision,” says McSherry, “is we want to be the input for every single stream. You talk to your refrigerator and in-car navigation, you want your language models to follow you around.”

When he puts it that way, Swype seems like a much more strategic acquisition for NUance than one which simply fills a hole. Nuance owns key pieces of technology for entering information onto mobile phones via both voice and touch (including the T9 text prediction algorithm used on most feature phones). In fact, Swype co-founder and CTO Cliff Kushler was also the inventor of T9. The t( offices are five blocks away from Swype’s in Seattle. The two code-bases will be merged, but the Swype brand will grow larger in importance.

Nuance is thinking beyond the input technologies people interact with on their mobile devices to tying them together in the cloud. So it doesn’t matter whether you use voice or Swype, Nuance will “share language models on the backend” and personalize each experience to an individual’s frequency of use and language patterns. So if your mobile phone learns how you spell your friend Sergey’s name and later you use voice recognition to send Sergey a text message, it will have a better chance of knowing that you mean Sergey and not Sergei.

Yes, Nuance is powering the new Siri Assistant in Apple’s upcoming iPhone 4S with its voice recognition technology. So does that mean that Swype could be coming to the iPHone as well? “I’d love to be able to see that,” says McSherry, adding, “There are certainly lots of requests to see Swype on the iPhone.” Maybe Nuance can help with the negotiations. As of now, Swype is on 19 million phones overall, including 9 of the top 11 phone manufacturers. It is especially big on Android. Bringing it to the iPhone would be a very popular move all around.

Here’s a demo video from a couple years ago comparing Swype (on a Windows phone) to tapping on an iPhone keyboard.


Company: Swype
Website: swype.com
Launch Date: October 8, 2011
Funding: $13.9M

Swype creates text input technology for screens. The patented interface enables users to create words with one continuous finger motion across an on-screen keyboard. This approach provides a faster and easier way to write. Swype delivers single-tap, multi-tap, predictive and “swype” motions for both stylus and finger based input. In addition, the application is designed to work across a variety of devices such as phones, tablets, game consoles, kiosks, televisions, virtual screens and more. Seattle based Swype...

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Website: nuance.com
Launch Date: October 8, 1992
IPO: NASDAQ:NUAN

Nuance Communications, Inc. provides speech, imaging and keypad solutions for businesses, organizations and consumers worldwide. The company’s solutions are used every day by people and businesses for tasks and services, such as requesting account information from a phone-based self-service solution, dictating records, searching the mobile Web by voice, entering a destination into a navigation system, or working with PDF documents. The company, through the acquisition of Philips Speech Recognition Systems GMBH (PSRS), provides speech recognition solutions for the European...

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Minecraft Pocket Edition Plays Nice With More Android Phones

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 02:18 PM PDT

craftdroid

Welp, I suppose it’s about time to kiss my weekend goodbye. It was a bumpy ride there for a while, but Minecraft Pocket Edition has finally gone live in the Android Market with support for (nearly) all devices.

That’s right, you no longer need to have an Xperia Play to partake in a rousing session of world-building. Any Android device running 2.1 or later is welcome to join the fun, but only after you shell out the requisite $6.99

True Minecraft addicts have already whipped out their wallets, but keep this in mind before you buy. This is Minecraft Pocket Edition — it plays more like the creative Classic mode rather than the fan-favorite Survival mode. That means no zombies, no creepers, and no harvesting blocks. Instead, you’ve got an infinite amount of materials to bring to life whatever crazy, horrifying things are bouncing around in your heads right now.

If you’re new to Minecraft, and want to see what all the fuss is about, there’s also a free demo version to mess around with. Fair warning: it’s pretty addictive, so I hope you’re not in desperate need of $7.

On a very personal sidenote, I’d like to thank the game’s developers for having the foresight to release it on a Friday afternoon. Any earlier than that, and who knows what would’ve happened to people’s productivity?



Dell Bows Out Of Windows Phone Market (For Now, At Least)

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 01:29 PM PDT

dell-logo-online-bloghugomartins

Dell was never a major player when it came to their Windows Phones selection (which, if memory serves, consisted of one device), but now it seems like they may not be a player at all. Sources have confirmed to WPCentral that Dell has decided to sit out of the Windows Phone race for at least the next year.

The news of Dell’s hiatus doesn’t come as a huge shock, as the company has been keeping suspiciously quiet on the Windows Phone front for months now.

Their saving grace could have been the mysterious “Wrigley” handset, a rumored successor to their ill-fated Venue Pro. Alas, poor Wrigley would never see the light of day, and it looks like Dell’s Mango ambitions may have died with it.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a shame. I’ve always been a sucker for a portrait slider, and the Venue Pro was nothing if not that. In fairness, it was a brick of a phone, and it suffered from more than its fair share of quality control issues. Still, less competition is almost always a bad thing — now there’s one less company to keep the big guys on their toes.

Dell hasn’t said that they would ditch Windows Phone completely, so there’s still hope for an WP8/Apollo device, but that’s an awfully long time for Dell devotees to hold their collective breaths.



AnyMeeting, The Free Webinar Service, Launches Redesign, Six-Way Video Conferencing

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 01:11 PM PDT

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AnyMeeting, the free web conferencing service all your online meeting and conference needs, is today launching a redesign of its user interface, which brings the service an upgraded interface that makes it even easier to meet with your colleagues without actually having to see them in person. If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will.

The company has also added a simultaneous video chat and broadcasting feature — a la Google+ Hangouts — that allows up to six participants to talk to each other and collaborate in realtime as they plan their takeover of the world.

The updates also include faster screen sharing and a cleaner in-meeting experience with improved screen management and web conferencing functions all offered in an easily-accessible menu bar.

The SaaS meeting and conference service, which was launched in late 2009, allows users to host meetings of up to 200 attendees with no time limits, screen sharing, app sharing, recording, and social media integration. The company is really targeting small businesses and independent professionals looking to offer how-to videos, demonstrations, or host panels and seminars. (Vokle is another cool company in the space offering similar functionality.)

The company has raised seed capital from investors that include Tech Coast Angels, Pasadena Angels, and Maverick Angels.

In August, the AnyMeeting added PayPal integration to allow anyone with a verified PayPal Merchant account to sell tickets to both live and recorded webinars. The feature is integrated into the startup’s webinar system in hopes of making monetization simple for its users — all they have to do is set their ticket price (or offer discount codes) and viewers can pay using their credit card or PayPal account. The funds go directly to the AnyMeeting users that scheduled the seminar, at which point the service deducts a small fee for each ticket purchased.

A small service charge, along with some non-intrusive advertising and strategic partnerships, are how the startup plans to make money.

I had a chance to take the video-conferencing tool for a spin, and it worked smoothly, all from within my browser. It’s a great little tool for startups, so check it out.

For more on AnyMeeting, check ‘em out at home here.


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RadioShack’s Trade-In Program May Just Get You A Free iPhone 4S

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 01:10 PM PDT

Trade & Save

RadioShack has a trade-in program for used gadgets that (circumstances permitting) may just save you quite a bit on an iPhone 4S. Even better, if you trade in a undamaged 32GB iPhone 4 (scratch free, no battery issues, etc.), you’ll get enough store credit back from RadioShack to purchase a 16GB iPhone 4S and still have money to burn. Well, not burn so much as spend on accessories or other RadioShack goodies, but you get the point.

Here’s how it works:

Take your functional smartphone (which doesn’t have to be an iPhone by the way) into a RadioShack and have a store rep appraise it. They’ll tell you just how much it’s worth, which you can use as credit on your next purchase. Since I assume many of you are looking into getting the iPhone 4S, timing really couldn’t be any better. The Trade-In and Save deal only lasts through October 31, reports TechnoBuffalo.

As far as Apple products go, the savings are pretty amazing. Check it out:

RadioShack isn’t allowing for iPhone 4S pre-order online — you’ll have to visit a store to do so. However, you’re going to have to visit a store to get your old device appraised anyway, so you might as well take care of that pre-order and see if someone will hint at the trade-in value of your old phone for you. Then when you head back to RadioShack to pick it up, you can trade in your old device and possibly get a really sweet deal on a brand new iPhone 4S.

If your old device is unfortunately too banged up to get you any store credit, RadioShack will recycle it for you for free. You won’t be walking away with any extra dough, but at least you’ll be saving the planet.

No RadioShack nearby? Wal-Mart and Target have similar programs in place.


Company: RadioShack
Website: radioshack.com

RadioShack sell the products and accessories that people want. For those on the go, RadioShack simplifies life with one of the largest selections in innovative products in wireless phones, GPS receivers, digital music players and laptop computers. For home enjoyment, RadioShack delivers the latest in entertainment products, from digital cameras to large screen TVs and gaming.

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Confirmed: Pinterest Raises $27 Million Round Led By Andreessen Horowitz

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 12:46 PM PDT

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Hot online pinboard site Pinterest has closed a $27 million round of funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, we’ve confirmed. As part of the financing, general partner Jeff Jordan will be joining Pinterest’s Board of Directors.

AllThingsD first reported that Andreessen Horowitz was leading a round of over $25 million that values the young startup at up to $200 million (the firm declined to confirm the valuation).

This new funding round comes just a few months after a $10 million round the company closed this past spring, led by Bessemer.

Pinterest is still invite-only, but it has garnered plenty of attention around Silicon Valley. And, notably, the site is getting a lot of traction outside of the tech bubble. The site’s popularity stems in part from its simplicity – at its core, it’s all about ‘pinning’ things you find interesting across the web, and saving them in whatever ‘Board’ you’d like (so, for example, you could make a ‘board’ of things you’d like to learn how to cook, showcasing tantalizing photos of steaks and ribs).

The site is very visually oriented, with photos everywhere — which is what makes it fun to browse through the pinboards of other users. When you spot something you like on someone else’s board, you can re-pin it onto yours (sort of like a Tumblr reblog). And it’s open-ended, so people wind up using their pinboards to showcase a variety of different things.

In an interview, Jordan said that Andreessen Horowitz is excited about Pinterest for three main reasons: first, the site is showing very strong growth metrics, despite the fact that it’s still in a semi-private beta. Second, the service has very strong user engagement — Jordan says the users who are registered often wind up using it “fairly voraciously”.

And finally, the site has a clear path to revenue —  a lot of the use-cases Pinterest users are coming up with have potential commercial intent (say, a list of things they want for their wedding). And there will certainly be business models that can be built around them.

Pinterest cofounder Ben Silbermann says that the company is setting out to “connect people all over the world through common interest”, and notes that people often use their pinboards to show off things that interest them offline (in other words, it’s sort of like an online bridge between the web and the real world).

Pinterest currently has a team of eight people, including Silbermann and fellow cofounders Evan Sharp and Paul Sciarra. They intend to use the funding to grow the team (by a lot, presumably).


Company: Pinterest
Website: pinterest.com
Launch Date: October 8, 2011
Funding: $10M

Pinterest is a social catalog service. Think of it as a virtual pinboard — a place where you can post collections of things you love, and “follow” collections created by people with great taste.

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The Ultimate Fanboy Mashup: Apple’s Siri Meets Portal’s GLaDOS

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 12:46 PM PDT

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Oh, be still my beating heart.

Boiling down two fanboy-filled worlds into an amalgamation of concentrated glory, a guy evil genius named Jeff Heimbuch has mashed up the demo video of Apple’s new virtual assistant Siri with the voice of Portal’s malevolent machine mistress, GLaDOS.

Comments about the meaningless of one’s activities? Check. Weight insults? Check. The only thing missing is the false promise of cake and a controversial crack about whether or not the end-user is an orphan. (Oh, and for those unfamiliar with the Portal world: yes, she’s this mean to everyone.)

Sadly, such a mashup lives on only in cleverly edited videos (and that special place my consciousness goes to after I’ve drifted off to sleep) for now. While customizable voices are undoubtedly on every iPhone 4S buyer’s Nerdgasm trigger list, it’d be markedly un-Apple-like for Apple to implement any time soon (not to mention incredibly formidable to implement at all, given the complexity of Siri’s speech engine.) Some day!



Print Your Own Padlock

Posted: 07 Oct 2011 12:29 PM PDT

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This project on Thingiverse is just about amazing. It’s a complete lock and key set made entirely using open source plans and a printed on a Makerbot. It can only be opened using the right key (or, given it’s made of plastic, a lighter) but it’s the engineering that clearly counts here.

Again, all items are printable except for the springs which I removed from ball-point click pens (thankfully my wife is still putting up with disassembled pens around the house). This one is a little more complicated but it still works and makes a good desk oddity. If you were to glue the “Top”, “Retainer”, and “Lid” in place, the only way to get this lock open without the key would be to break it. But, what is the fun if you can’t take it apart?

You can even build a unique key for every lock but filing down the internal pins. Why would you want to build one of these? Because you can.



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